Another Q & A format from Glow in the Woods. This one was kinda hard to write, though I can’t really begin to explain why. I don’t talk too much about my family here, especially outside of my immediate circle. In a lot of ways, I’ve been self-centered about my grief, focusing only on Geordie and myself; sometimes I forget that my family is also grieving, perhaps not for a daughter but for a cousin, a niece, a granddaughter.
 

1. What was your relationship with your immediate family like before your child died? How has it changed?

I’ve always been a little aloof when it comes to family. As a teenager, I went through a period when I refused to hug anybody. I went off to college and never really got homesick. In 2008, I uprooted myself and moved to Japan – and I loved it. Not once was I homesick. When I got involved with Geordie, none of my family or friends had met him. By the time I fell pregnant, they had seen each other only through Skype, exchanging pleasantries. I married him without discussing it with anyone, as is typical for me. My life has always been about my decisions for myself. I listen to advice but take it as I need it. I have never felt any obligations to be physically close to my family.

Because of this history of ours, a lot of people assume I’m not emotionally close to my family. The opposite is true. My parents and brother supported my decisions the entire time, as they always have. When they do have advice to give me, I respect their words and weigh them carefully. I have not lived my life as an island; even when I lived in Japan, my thoughts ran to them often – not in a homesick way but in fondness and appreciation. My family has always accepted me for who I am, and I have always been grateful.

However, I’m still the aloof one, a shadow daughter in some ways. I stick to Geordie, and I know why: he knows what I’m feeling, what I’ve lost. What we have lost. My family mourns Lauren too, but they do it differently. Their connection to Lauren is solely emotional; they never saw me pregnant, never felt her kick against me, never saw her image first hand. Their grief may be as strong as ours in some ways, but it’s not the same. I try not to get stuck on that. It’s taken me some time to realize that Geordie and I are not the only ones mourning.
 

2. Has your family been a refuge or a safe haven, or a place where your grief is unaccepted?

A safe haven, always. Not just with my immediate family, but also with extended family. And with Geordie’s family. We have not had to grieve alone.
 

3. How has you partner’s family been there for you? For your partner?

When we came back to the States, I had only talked to his parents on Skype. Geordie hadn’t seen his family in four years. The support we’ve gotten has been amazing. It’s not always easy, and I know it’s harder for Geordie. These are people we hoped to introduce Lauren to over winter holidays, and instead, we came to them empty-handed. They’ve been so kind and generous to us. It’s heartbreaking to meet these people who loved Lauren before either she or I had ever met them.
 

4. Have your immediate and extended families accepted your child as part of the family? Do they talk about your babies? Do they mourn?

Yes. Wonderfully, yes. Going into the Christmas season, I worried about Lauren’s place in the family, but she was accepted without question. Many people spoke of her tentatively or waited until we brought her up first, but as time has passed, I think people have realized that we want to talk about her. As difficult as it is sometimes, it’s always wonderful to talk about her, especially with people who are her family and loved her upon knowing of her. It touched me deeply to see my family mourning my daughter, to see how loved and wanted she was when they had never even gotten the chance to meet her. I’ll never forget that.
 

5. What kind of support did your immediate family offer? Did they lose themselves in action, like cooking or cleaning? Or were they emotionally supportive?

In every way, our families have done the best for us. They’ve opened their doors to us, welcomed us into their homes, given us food and beds as we have needed them. In any way that they could support us, they have done so. We are surrounded by wonderful people.
 

6. What is it like to bear witness to your family’s grief? In what ways could you be present for them? In what ways could you not be present?

It’s an odd thing to see my family mourn my daughter. I tend to go through this life treating myself as someone on the fringe, an observer rather than a participant. Lauren opened the world up to me, made it real. But at the same time, it’s been hard for me to see grief past Geordie and myself. Perhaps this is because, for the first month after Lauren died, we had only my mother to grieve with. And then I was so wrapped up in my own pain that it took me nearly two weeks to recognize hers. Seeing our parents’ pain has been harder than I could imagine. For me, my parents have always been so strong, so capable of handling whatever came along. To see them hurt so deeply shocks me. I often feel I’ve failed to help them in their mourning, while they have done everything for us. I had never realized how blinding grief can be, how narrow it makes the world seem.
 

7. When you reflect on deaths in your extended family, how did the treatment of your child’s death differ from, say, the death of a grandparent?

I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had to deal with a lot of death in my family. I’ve lost great-grandparents, and I was old enough to process that grief and handle it accordingly. I lost people who distant to me, generations removed, and I was, at best, awkward in their living presence. It wasn’t until I fell pregnant with Lauren that I began to understand the depth of a relationship with a person you know from birth. I saw my great-grandparents as “old people,” hardly related to me, and I always imagined I was just a kid to them. I wonder now how wrong I might have been.

Lauren’s death was unexpected, unlike the deaths of persons who were venturing into their 90th decade. Death is a shock, always, but I think there comes a point when death is blunter and less damaging. The loss of Lauren came as something sharp and horrid, whereas the death of a 90-year old is gentler, more reflective. With Lauren, we had her future to grieve, a lifetime of love and possibility, that which an older person has already experienced. I think that’s what makes mourning a child so difficult: you don’t grieve for what you had, you grieve for what you could have but never will.

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